Spruce Grouse (Canachites canadensis)
This grouse lives in young, middle aged to mature Michigan jack pine forests, as well as dense spruce, fir, cedar, and tamarack swamps, in the Lower and Upper peninsulas. It is larger than a pigeon and stands about 15 to 17 inches in height.
The female is deep brown in color and has black barred feathers, with facial feathers extending down the beak. Her body lacks the black belly feathers of the male and is tan colored and mottled. The tail is unbarred with a buff colored band. Her flank feathers are blotched with white.
Flanks on a male spruce grouse are white spotted. The male also has a patch of red colored skin above the back of the eye, and the tail is tipped with a chestnut band. This blending of colors allows the spruce grouse to blend with the colors of needles, leaves and lichens.
Spruce grouse walk with jerky heads and a stiff legged gait, as if planting each foot with purpose as they strut among the duff on the forest floor. They leave three pronged footprints as lasting images of their explorations in the soft forest soils. In winter snows, their toes, which are edged with hair like feathers, create miniature snowshoe imprints.
The nesting hen makes a small depression of about five to six inches in diameter and one to two inches deep among needles and leaf litter underneath young jack pine branches and bent bracken fern stems. Clutch size may be five to as many as 16 eggs. An incubating hen will remain on the nest throughout most forest disturbances, even those that are obvious threats to her safety.
Hatching occurs in June. Chicks will leave the nest as soon as they can walk. Just after hatching they rarely venture more than a foot or two from their nest. Soon they are exploring the forest floor under the watchful eye of the hen. Within a short time, the young are flying on their own.
Predation of spruce grouse is by coyotes, red foxes, weasels, hawks and owls. The tame personality of the spruce grouse often allows people to approach to a close range. Spruce grouse are sometimes mistaken for ruffed grouse.
Spruce grouse are fully protected in Michigan and, because they are rare, are listed on the Special Concern list. To see one in its natural habitat provides an enriching experience for anyone so lucky.